In Other Words: “Gender Liberation” & Suicide

On New Year’s Day, I was invited to a friend’s house to watch some documentaries… documentaries that discuss a variety of perspectives about and around the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) experience. They were quite good, one of them focusing on the difficulties that many youth have with the way that adults force them to behave, contrary to their natural way of expressing themselves… and how other children, following in those adults footsteps, are even more cruel and hateful in the way they treat their peers. The piece was called “In Other Words”, and was produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Here in Toronto, things are a bit better (as expressed by the “It Gets Better” project) primarily because our school boards have taken the active step to educate children on their peers’ perspective… as illustrated by this list of resources for the Toronto District School Board. It is not an attempt to “convert” those who are not LGBT: but rather to inform all youth about the variety of gender expressions that are valid in our world today. Even those who are solidly heterosexual (the majority) can benefit from understanding the difficulties their friends may be going through.

Then I came to Gather (one of the other online communities where I post my work) and was reading some posts about the subject of “Gender Liberation”. I have to admit I felt a bit ill. I was not surprised to find that many of those who write on Gather are just as badly-informed as many in Canada. I was, however, surprised to see that some people who are otherwise quite compassionate treat this issue with not only disdain, but downright hatred. I should not have been, I suppose: much though sexual orientation is improving in its status in the world, those who are transgender are often considered well worth emotional kicks of discrimination. From what I’ve seen in some of these posts, many of us on Gather continue to participate in this kind of verbal and emotional abuse.

Bullying has been a big issue lately (Mental Health America). The “Safe Schools Improvement Act” has been introduced to Congress (Nestor Lopez Duran, PhD, 2010) in an attempt to combat a rising epidemic of violence against minorities, including gays. This is an act that “would call on schools and districts that receive federal funds to adopt anti-bullying policies and codes of conduct that specifically prohibit bullying or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation and perceived or actual gender identity.” (Steve Williams, 2010). I’ve often heard that when it comes to bullying, children mostly repeat the habits of their parents. It would seem that on Gather, this is is quite probable.

Are you aware, for instance, that youth of different gender expressions and sexual orientations have statistically higher attempts at suicide? There are a lot of quotes across the net about the actual degree to which it is higher, but I was not able to find any studies to confirm them. Unfortunately, it is difficult to ask a teen about these matters after a successful attempt, and many families are less than willing to divulge such information. But studies have been done. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has concluded: “… Research from several sources also revealed that LGB youth are nearly one and a half to seven times more likely than non-LGB youth to have reported attempting suicide” (emphasis mine) (Suicide Prevention Resource Center).

And please: one of those who disagreed with me once tried to convince me that it was because they were gay that such people tried to commit suicide. This could not be further from the truth. The same document explains: “LGB youth generally have more risk factors, more sever risk factors, and fewer protective factors than heterosexual youth.. [they] often lack important protective factors such as family support and safe schools, and more LGB young people appear to experience depression and substance abuse… It would be difficult to overstate thee impact of stigma and discrimination against LGBT individuals in the United States… [these] are directly tied to risk factors for suicide” (emphasis mine). It is because of the very attitudes expressed in those posts that youth are driven to believe they are “warped” and try to commit suicide.

Perhaps you don’t think it’s an important issue: perhaps you enjoy adding to the “stigma” that haunts LGBT youth. It could be that you think that giving youth a safe place to express themselves and be who they are is “poisonous” and “evil” and “corrupt” (as stated on the post). So be it. But I do pray that your children or grandchildren are not the ones who attempt to kill themselves because of your words. Statistically, someone’s child will try… and possibly succeed.

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